Deprivation – Alex Jeffers (Lethe Press)

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Buy it now from Lethe Press

I must confess to loving books with interesting and
intricate plots, marveling at the author’s skill at planning what exactly
happens when. On the other hand, I also love books which have no plot at all
but pull me in and keep me entertained with deep, full characters and marvelous
writing. Alex Jeffers’ latest, Deprivation, is a perfect example of the
latter.

Ben Lansing has a problem, even though he doesn’t perceive
it as such. He doesn’t sleep well; however, he does dream. His dream life seems
to be richer than his waking one of a less-than-dream job and the rigors of a
long commute. He’d much rather be with his Italian lover, Dario, or conjuring a
hippogriff, or fantasizing about animated Renaissance sculpture than deciding
whether or not he’s in love with his former Italian teacher, a randy bike
messenger named Neddy or his possible (and possibly straight) roommate
Kenneth—not to mention his stress over his parents’ impending divorce.

But Ben Lansing’s problems are our delight. Although events
occur and things happen in Deprivation, there is no plot to speak of.
But anyone who enjoys immersion in other worlds will find Jeffers’ literate and
impossibly precise language a rare and beautiful thing. His dream of the
hippogriff is amazingly creative, and he brings it to life with such verve and
style that it truly makes me envious. And that’s only one example.

It would be a waste, however, to characterize Deprivation
as a series of finely wrought dreams. It’s also a sharp character study of
Lansing, a mild and placid man whose deprivation is mostly self-imposed. Oddly
removed and distanced from his, admittedly, boring post-college job as well as
his parents and what few friends he has, he seeks his refuge in art and
literature—reflections of life rather than life itself. Jeffers, then, has
created a cautionary tale whose central character cannot participate in life
because he doesn’t have enough experience with it to be comfortable living in
reality.

This is a direct parallel with Lansing’s parents, Ian, a gay
doctor/father and Sandra, his straight novelist/mother who have lived together
for a number of years in a reflection of a marriage rather than an actual one.
Next to Ben, these character studies are the most keen in the book. The honest
deceptions they have lived with throughout their marriage have set Ben’s
fantasy world in motion, touching off his escapes from reality.

Also well-drawn are Neddy, the badboy bike messenger Ben
thinks he falls in love with, and Kenneth, a straight—but not so
straight—man who wants Ben to be his roommate. With benefits? We’re never sure,
and neither is Ben. One thing is sure: Jeffers’ sex scenes are so marvelously
stylized, you don’t even realize the characters are having sex until the
clothes are off and things are well underway.

Deprived, then, is a wonderfully plotless piece of
art to be savored and admired. How could you possibly ask for anything more?

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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